Dennis W. Mazzocco: 2012 Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award

Dennis Mazzocco

December 14, 2011

Associate Director/Stage Manager/Production Associate Council East (AD/SM/PA) member Dennis W. Mazzocco will become the 22nd recipient of the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, which will be presented at the DGA Awards ceremony later this month. The Schaffner Award is given to an Associate Director or Stage Manager in recognition of their service to the industry and DGA.

On behalf of the AD/SM/PA Council East Coast, Chair Joan Griffin expressed their pride that Council member Dennis Mazzocco has been chosen for this prestigous honor.

Asked why Mazzocco was selected for one of the Guild’s highest honors, DGA Assistant Secretary-Treasurer Scott Berger replied, “It’s quite simple. Dennis continues to be one of the hardest-working members the Guild has ever seen. He set the bar very high for himself when he served as chair of the AD/SM/PA Council East and he has never looked back. He was arguably the best chair our Council has ever seen. Now, as he serves on the Guild’s National Board, his dedication to our category is valued by us all. He is most deserving of this honor.”

Currently in his fifth term on the Council, Mazzocco previously spent six years serving as Council Chair from 2003-2009. He also serves as an Associate Member of the DGA National Board, an office he has held since 2009, and previously served as a Second Alternate Board Member from 2005-2009. His service also includes his active participation on various national and council committees such as the Reality Television Committee.

In the three decades since Mazzocco joined the Guild as an Associate Director for ABC Sports in 1980, his work has taken him more than a half million miles in pursuit of the story. It is a journey that began in the appropriately named community of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He first became interested in the world of broadcasts after viewing The Beatles’ first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. “I knew that I wanted to be part of an industry that people were watching and learning from,” said Mazzocco.

His childhood dreams of working the control booth took a side tour when he enrolled at Seton Hall University as a pre-med student. “But I found out that there wasn’t a lot of creative expression or storytelling involved in becoming a physician,” he laughs. He soon discovered he could flex his creative muscles as part of the campus radio station WSOU and there met the mentor who would change his life. “WSOU was run by students and I was able to immediately get involved and started creating radio programs. Through one of my programs, I met Stephen K. Nenno, an executive and USC alumnus who worked in television at ABC. He became the professional advisor to our station and later hired me and a lot of my colleagues after we graduated.”

Securing an entry level job at ABC in New York, Mazzocco quickly found his way to ABC Sports Operations in 1978. “There was no ESPN or cable sports networks as we know them today,” he recalls. “ABC was the gold standard for sports programs in the world. They had the best storytellers, the best directors, the best producers, and the best on-air talent. It was just the greatest place to work.”

After two years, he finally got an opportunity to join the Guild. “I was spending a lot of time behind the scenes with the producers and directors and decided I wanted to work in production. Right after the Lake Placid Olympics, there was an opening for an Associate Director’s job and that’s how I got into the Guild. My first job was working on Wide World of Sports. It was a pretty amazing experience.”

In the course of his career, Mazzocco’s resume includes sports broadcasts like The Super Bowl and The World Series; news programs like Nightline and Good Morning America; variety/reality shows like The Academy Awards and Dancing with the Stars; and even daytime serials like One Life to Live. His work has helped earn 20 Emmy nominations and nine wins for programs such as Wide World of Sports, seven Olympic broadcasts on ABC and NBC, and the six-part, network documentary series ABC Notebook. He also worked on the Peabody Award-winning and DGA Award-nominated ABC 2000, a 23-hour news special watched by 175 million viewers.

He is especially proud of being one of a select few who have worked on 12 Olympic broadcasts. “My first Olympics were in Lake Placid in 1980, and my last was the Athens Olympics in 2004. It was a tremendous learning experience. You have to commit to a 25-day period at a distant location and generally work 12-18 hour days with maybe a day off in the first week. Once the games begin, they go on for 17 days and you’re working nearly around the clock. It was intense, but exhilarating. Each time I did an Olympics broadcast I learned things about the business, but also about myself in the way I saw my own craft.”

His mentors included seasoned Associate Directors like Carol Lehti and Vince DeDario, and directors like DGA Lifetime Achievement in Sports Direction Award recipients Joseph Aceti and Doug Wilson. “They taught me the mechanics of how to craft dramatic human stories and to back-time a show. More than that, they taught me how to think like a professional with meticulous preparation before you go on the air and how to always have a plan in case something doesn’t work out. It was a great way to build a team-centered approach so that you were always thinking about the team and protecting the show, because no matter what, the show must go on.”

That team-centered approach also motivated Mazzocco to run for a seat on the AD/SM/PA Council in 2001. “At that point I’d been in the industry for years and realized how important the Guild was for me and others. I wanted to give back and knew the Guild needed experienced folks. At my first meeting I was a little intimidated because I just wanted to get the swing of things. But the people were friendly and welcoming and very soon I felt like I could make some tangible contributions.”

Of the many things he’s been able to do during his Guild service, he admits he’s proudest of his work on three Network Negotiations Committees. He’s also pleased with his contributions to the negotiations for the ESPN/ABC, MTV and Comedy Central Agreements during his tenure as Council Chair, as well as being part of last year’s website advisory committee and 75th Anniversary Committee. “These experiences have enriched my life in so many ways. I’m not one with many regrets but if I had my life to do over I would get involved in Guild service much sooner. I’ve found it so fulfilling.”

Also rewarding are the opportunities he has to pass his wisdom on to the next generation as a tenured professor at the Hofstra University School of Communication. “I know that a lot of professors don’t talk about professional guilds in their college classrooms. I do and whenever I can, I’m proud to tell my students that I’m on the board of the Directors Guild. I tell them, ‘If you want to think about a career in this industry that lasts, you have to think about a structure that’s going to give you support for not just your economic interests but your artistic interests.’ Our guild does that in powerful ways. My advocacy for the Guild has taught me that sometime you have to stand up and be outspoken when it comes to speaking up for your rights and the DGA gives us the opportunity to do that in a respectful way.”

Mazzocco is moved that his peers stood up for him and tapped him as this year’s recipient of the Schaffner Award. “The Schaffner Award is the high point of my career, no question about it. When you look at the roster of all the people who’ve been given this award, these are some of the leading names in the industry. It’s very humbling and very meaningful to me. I’m so appreciative to my colleagues that they think that I deserve this honor.”  

Past recipients of the DGA Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award

Maria Jimenez Henley (2010) • Scott Berger (2009) • Barbara J. Roche (2008) • Terry Benson (2007) • Donald E. Jacob (2006) • Stanley Faer (2005) • Peery Forbis (2004) • Esperanza “Candy” Martinez (2003) • Anita Cooper-Avrick (2002) • Robert Van Ry (2001) • Scott L. Rindenow (2000) • Robert Caminiti (1999) • C.J. Rapp-Pittman (1998) • Joseph L. Dicso (1997) • Don Lewis Barnhart (1996) • Larry Carl (1995) • James E. Wall (1994) • James “Woody” Woodworth (1993) • Marilyn Jacobs-Furey (1992) • Chester O’Brien & Mortimer O’Brien (1991)